As you know this past Thanksgiving, brining turkeys was all the rage. I did not brine a turkey since we always go out to eat, although I have experimented with brining before, pork chops to be more specific. It was a Tyler Florence recipe and I don't recall being very impressed. Recently whilst leafing through one of my Christmas presents, Judy Rodger's obsessive Zuni Cafe Cookbook, I came across a chapter on brining. She explains that this method is their everyday cure they use for pork, insisting that it reliably transforms lean pork into succulent meat. Pork is one of those meats that I find so easy to over cook. As such I tend not to make it very often even though I love it and it's healthy. Looking at the recipe, I was taken with Ms. Rodger's use of the word "reliable." As in "we've done it this way over and over and over again and it WILL work." I decided to give the brine a second chance.
The decision to serve my brined pork loins with romesco sauce was inspired by one of the recipes on Sunday Suppers at Lucques, one in which Suzanne Goin uses it as an accompaniment to some thick pork chops (which she too brines). I've always wanted to attempt romesco, after reading about it's versatility over at Immaeatchu. Like seriously, Susan has found a way to work it into so many different dishes, and each one looks better than the next. For those who don't know, "romesco" is a sauce that originates in Spain, Catalonia to be exact. Like so many of these sort of sauces, recipes often vary, but the common ingredients are reconstituted dried peppers, almonds, hazelnuts, garlic, and lots of flavorful olive oil, all pureed into a thick sauce the deep color of red clay. Many recipes also include roasted tomatoes, red wine vinegar, paprika, cayenne pepper or red pepper flakes and some chewy bread that has been fried to a golden brown. Usually the sauce is spooned over seafood like shrimp and fish or with meats like chicken, beef, pork etc., although really, it seems like it would be good on pretty much anything. There are a number of steps and components to the sauce (toasting the nuts, frying the bread, etc) but it's totally manageable. In fact, you can easily make it days before you intend to serve it and by doing so, the flavors will the the opportunity to meld and deepen.
To go with the sort of Spanish flavors, I decided to serve the pork and romesco along with a big pot of risotto flavored with saffron.
(for the brined pork)
not quite 1 tablespoon Juniper berries, gently whacked with the side of a knife to crack them a little
3 bay leaves, sort of crumbled
5 or 6 dried chiles de arbol, crumbled
6 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons Kosher salt
5 cups water
(for the romesco sauce)
1/2 ounce raw almonds (about 12 nuts)
1 ounce hazelnuts (about 32 nuts)
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus 1 cup
3 cloves garlic, peeled
1 1/2 ounces (about 1 thick slice or so) thick slice chewy, white peasant style bread, crusts cut off
5 ancho or pasilla chiles, stems and seeds removed
1/2 cup canned peeled whole tomatoes, crushed in a large bowl with your hands
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon fresh flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
juice of half a lemon
(for the saffron risotto)
8 cups chicken broth
1/2 teaspoon saffron threads, (about 20 not that I bothered to count)
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons organic extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup finely chopped yellow onion
1 1/2 cups arborio rice
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 cup Parmagiano Reggiano, freshly grated
drizzle of olive oil
sea salt, to taste
ground pepper, to taste
First, brine the pork, since it takes the longest - 2 to 4 days in the brining solution. Combine 1 cup of water, the juniper berries, bay leaves, and chiles de arbol. Bring to a simmer then turn off the heat and let sit for about 10 minutes, to infuse.
In a large bowl, combine the infused water along with the juniper berries, bay leaves and chiles de arbol, 4 more cups cold water, the salt and sugar. Stir to dissolve the sugar and salt. Rinse the tenderloins and then place in the brine.
Use a small place to keep the pork completely submerged. Cover and place in the refrigerator for 2 to 4 days.
Next make the romesco. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Bring two cups of water to a simmer in a small pan. Turn off the heat and add the peppers to the water and let them soak for 15 minutes, to soften.
Meanwhile, place the almonds and hazelnuts on a small, rimmed baking sheet, in separate piles and then roast in the oven until the skins of the hazelnuts darken, about 10 to 15 minutes. While they are still hot, bundle the hazelnuts in a kitchen towel, gather up the edges and then scrunch and massage them to rub most of the skins off. Pick out the nuts and set aside.
Pour 1/4 cup of olive oil in a skillet and heat over medium heat. Add the 3 cloves of garlic and fry until soft and golden. Remove the garlic from the pan and set aside. Add the bread to the pan and fry until golden brown.
Remove from the pan place on a paper towel to cool and drain, leaving the oil in the pan. When it's cool enough to handle, tear the bread into chunks the size of croutons and reserve.
Remove the peppers from the water and place on a paper towel and pat dry.
Heat the oil left in the pan again, over medium-high heat. Add the chiles to the oil and saute for a minute or two. Be careful when adding the chiles, it may sputter and pop. Add the canned tomatoes and season with 1/2 teaspoon of salt and cook for 2 to 3 minutes, stirring often, until any tomato juices have cooked off and the tomato has gotten a little color. Turn off the heat and let cool slightly in the pan.
Place the hazelnuts, almonds, garlic, and fried bread in a food processor and pulse until coarsely ground. Add the chile and tomato mixture and process until combined. With the machine running, slowly pour in the 1 cup of olive oil until the mixture has formed a smooth puree. Don't worry if it seems like the olive oil and the solids sort of separate. This is normal.
Scrape the romesco into a bowl and add the parsley, paprika, cayenne and a spritz of lemon juice. Taste and add more salt if it seems like it needs it.
This can all be done ahead of time. Just place in a airtight container and put in the refrigerator until you plan to serve your meal. Just be sure to remove from the refrigerator at least 1/2 hour before, so it can come back to room temperature. You see, the olive oil sort of solidifies in the refrigerator.
And back to the pork. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Remove the pork from the brine and pat very dry with a couple layers of paper towel. Drizzle with with a little olive oil and rub into the pork. You DON'T need to season with any salt or pepper, thanks to the brining.
Heat an ovenproof skillet over high heat for two minutes. Add a tablespoon of olive oil and place the tenderloins in the pan and sear on all sides, until golden brown. I'd like to have gotten a little more color on mine.
Place the skillet in the oven and roast the meat for 22 to 25 minutes. Remove from oven and let rest for about 10 minutes.
While the meat is roasting, it's a good time to make the risotto. Heat the broth and saffron in a medium saucepan, cover and bring to a gentle simmer. In another heavy-bottomed pot, heat butter and olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the onion and sauté until translucent. Add rice and stir thoroughly to coat with butter.
Add the wine and stir with a wooden spoon to combine. Continue stirring until the wine has been absorbed by the rice. Add a ladle full of hot broth and stir continuously until almost all the broth has been absorbed. It'll go from being quite soupy to dry but creamy.
Repeat the process of ladling in stock and stirring until combined. Taste after 20 minutes. The rice should be tender, but still firm and intact. If not, continue adding stock, but be sure to keep tasting. You may not need to use all the broth. If you just continue adding the stock until it's all gone, the risotto could end up mushy. (I had about 1 cup of stock left over) Stir in the Parmagiano Reggiano, drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper to taste.
Okay so I think I might be a brining convert. I have to admit, it works quite well. It not so much makes the pork really juicy so much as it makes it incredibly tender. As in you can cut it with a fork. That tender. It's kind of amazing. The aromatics, sugar and salt, give it a really interesting, sort of unexpected flavor that permeates every cell of the meat. I next want to try brining some nice thick chops again and experiment with a different combination of flavors. And then on to brining poultry.
The romesco pairs really well with the pork. The flavors are bold and earthy with a slow moving, vaguely bitter heat that kicks in after you've swallowed. The texture is thick and grainy but with a velvety slickness from the olive oil. I really recommend giving it a try. It brings to mind one of those sauces like charmoula, salsa verde, and chimichurri, versatile, capable of dressing up anything it's associated with, be it simple grilled chicken, roasted meats, fish and other seafoods or even slathered on a sandwich or used as a dipping sauce.
The risotto goes wonderfully with the pork and romesco, contrasting the textures and flavors. The saffron tints the rice a beautiful pale golden color and gives it an unexpected sort of subtly floral flavor. It's consistency is creamy and rich, thanks to the Parmagiano Reggiano. I can imagine the risotto would be great formed into little balls stuffed with a tiny cube of Manchego, then dredged in egg, coated in Panko and then fried crisp. A nice little Spanish take on the classic Italian Arancini. Hmmmm, I might have to give that a try.
the pork and risotto serve 4 to 6
the romesco yields about 2 cups